Entry 873 on the UNESCO World Heritage list is titled, “Provins, Town of Medieval Fairs.” UNESCO’s listing honors Provins role as the location of one of the Champagne fairs, an annual cycle of trading fairs held in towns in the Champagne and Brie regions of Northern France in the Middle Ages. These fairs were crucial to the medieval European economy and were integral to the early development of international trade and the wool industry. At their height, in the late 12th and the 13th century, the fairs linked the cloth-producing cities of the Low Countries with the Italian dyeing and exporting centers.
Provins urban structure was built specifically around the Champagne fairs. Today the commune’s medieval street plan and character are well preserved; the town is a popular day trip destination for French tourists. Indeed Provins has become a bit an amusement park with medieval shows and a tourist train. Fortunately it is not over-the-top touristy and the attractions add more than detract from the medieval feel of the village.
During our visit in June of 2016 the Provins was particularly atmospheric, as an authentic medieval thunderstorm based through. At least it felt like a medieval storm. When the squall moved in anything left unanchored on the main square was tossed about by the strong winds as the assembled tourists scrambled for cover as hailstones pelted down. As the storm passed the temperature dropped. Provins medieval buildings, comfortably cool in the warmth of the pre-squall sun, were less pleasant in the wind and cold. Undoubtedly this was a more realistic feel of what life was like in medieval times. Though it can be imagined as idyllic, life during the Middle Ages was lined with discomforts.